Caring for the Caregiver
Being a caregiver for an aging loved one can be a rewarding experience, giving you precious time to bond with a family member or friend in ways not possible before. However, it can also be an exhausting and often isolating experience, especially if you are caring for someone with a disease like dementia or Alzheimer’s. In fact, many caregivers in these situations can end up suffering from their own health and emotional issues because they do not have the time or resources to also care for themselves along with their loved one.
In order to give the best care to your loved one, it’s imperative that you as a caregiver can also care for yourself, both physically and mentally. While many senior services offer “palliative care” – a few hours a day or week where a caregiver can have a break from daily chores in order to simply take a break, go to appointments, or run their own errands – perhaps the more hidden need is that of regular emotional support. While it may be obvious if you are not getting enough sleep or eating right, it’s not so obvious if you as a caregiver are not getting enough of this type of support.
For example, you might not recognize the symptoms of needing increased support, even temporarily. PBS recently published a caregiver self-assessment checklist asking if, in the past week, you have:
- Felt that you could not leave your relative alone
- Felt completely overwhelmed
- Felt isolated, or felt a loss of privacy or personal time
- Been upset that your loved one has changed so much from his or her former self
- Felt dissatisfied from the support from other family members
- Felt ill (headaches, backaches, stomach problems)
- Felt an increase in your stress level or felt especially irritable or edgy
If you answered yes to most of these, it may be a sign that you would benefit from a caregiver support network. You should know that these feelings and experiences often come and go, and are totally understandable in a situation of being a primary caregiver. The important thing is to be able to when you need help, and to take action so that you can come back refreshed and ready to give your loved one the care he or she truly needs. Download the full caregiver self-assessment checklist from PBS here.
Local and Online Support Groups for Caregivers
So how do you go about building a support system of people who understand what you are going through, and who may be going through the same things themselves? The good news is that there are many opportunities, both online or in person, to meet and get to know other caregivers.
A good support group offers numerous benefits to a caregiver, such as the chance to share feelings that others who haven’t been in your situation might not understand and who, frankly, might judge unfairly. Talking to other caregivers can make you feel less alone in your struggles, give you ideas or tips for handling hard situations, and give you perspective on what lies ahead. The elements of confidentiality and structure are important in a care group, as well as a good facilitator and a sense of trust between members.
Good places to start your search for a care group include local senior centers or adult day care centers, social work departments of your local hospital, disease-specific organizations that focus on your loved one’s condition (like the Alzheimer’s Association), and your church. If you live in a rural or remote area, or are facing a more rare condition with your loved one, you may find great support from online forums or message boards, which you can locate by utilizing your Internet search engine. Two great sites to start with are AgingCare.com and Caregivers.com. If it’s easier to speak to someone over the phone, there are many national organizations you’ll find with a quick online search, like the Children of Aging Parents (CAPS) organization at 800-227-7294, or the National Family Caregivers Association at 800-896-3650.
Again, just like a parent raising children, you have to remember that you must set aside enough energy and time to care for yourself or else the care you offer others will suffer, hurting everyone in the process. Thanks to today’s technology, emotional support is readily available, so take advantage. You may be surprised at the difference it can make in giving you the hope and energy to continue on with one of life’s hardest, yet most important, callings: caring for another person.